Notice. verb. According to Dictionary.com, “To pay attention to or take notice of; to perceive; become aware of.”
This post is what happens when you are fresh out of things to write about. This is what happens when your soul is in a state of in-between, wrestling between winter and spring, and you are sick of analyzing it. This is what happens when your end-of-the-year self wants a sprinkle of joy.
You make up a challenge for yourself.
You remember that a professor once told you that noticing is one of the most neglected spiritual disciplines. As you unravel what it means to be a writer and a Christian, you begin to see her point. The writer works in details, seeing and communicating through the small, a shrug of shoulders or an unmade bed. God works in whispering detail too, revealing himself in ripples on a lake and fledgling emotions. You think you’re missing these things. So you challenge yourself to notice for a week and to write down what you see.
At least that’s what I did.
I spent this week trying to be aware, to snag the small moments and quit rushing blindly through my life. At night, full of sleepy reflection, I typed out the details. It was good, even when this week was imperfect. There were crappy times, and I noticed those too. But I realized that catching moments, the full spectrum of them, makes my heart beat.
This is what I noticed this week.
Sunday: I realize that I had a really good weekend. I was actually aware in the ordinary moments. I tuned in to the details of my needs, going deeper than “I’m cranky.” When I was tired, I napped. When I was bored, I read a book. When I itched to create, I rolled paper into tiny roses and baked. In an effort to maintain my good mood and make the most of my life and generate something to write about because I’m totally out of ideas, I decide to notice the details this week.
Monday: I notice how wearing polka dot rain boots makes me want to splash in puddles. So I do, despite a leaky seam and people who might laugh at the weirdo walking through water. Late afternoon crabbiness hits after sitting under fluorescent lights and correcting grammar assignments. I make myself go for a run, knowing that it is the best remedy. I don’t want to, but I do anyway. The ice patches that covered the sidewalks on Saturday are now shiny skins of water. My side aches. I should have drank more water today. My heart pounds, telling me to walk. Sometimes it wins. But more often, my brain tells me to keep going, step by step, and I do. I focus less on preparing my thighs for distant Swimsuit Season and more on pushing them across the approaching finish line. Endorphins and pounding music erase my moodiness. I like endorphins. A lot. I feel strong.
Tuesday: I notice that the quote from our chapel speaker sticks in my mind, a zinger from G.K. Chesterton that reads:
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
I realize that it’s been a while since I marveled at a sunset, that day slips into night and I am unaware. I expect grand variety and endless entertainment, dismissing the mundane as stuff I’ve seen before. In extra awkward minutes between events, I read a book rather than mindlessly surfing the Internet. I notice my mood lifted, the time stretched and blessed. Tides of worry, overwhelm, recede, overwhelm, recede, as prayer and human flesh war. I feel where my soul is raw, seeking comfort and stability. So I play music that speaks truth with guitar and poetry and name my moods with words instead of sighs. It smooths the frantic waves a bit, though they still wash in. I wonder if they always will.
Wednesday: I notice that my day seems eternal. I fumble through failure. I mess up minor things at work. They are manageable, but add to a string of screw-ups that unsettle my illusions of competence.
I give blood. The idea of being stabbed and having my life-sustaining fluids pulled out makes me twitchy, and I edge towards fainting every time. I make it through, deep breathing steady and eyes away from the red coursing from my arm, until the tube is clamped, the blood stops flowing, and my body realizes the metal embedded in it. It panics, and the room starts swimming. As the Red Cross guy lays me flat, the needle dislodges from my vein. Apparently this is a bad thing. I become fully aware of its dull presence, still sticking, now hurting. In order for my blood to be used, I must have blood samples drawn from my other arm. I am already stretched flat, the ceiling still fuzzy, one arm dully throbbing. I say why not. The vein in my other arm is small. The needle won’t take, the blood won’t come, and it hurts. I am poked a lot. I still don’t know if it worked. I feel failure quavering behind my eyes. None of this is my fault, but I still feel like I have done something wrong.
I climb stairs to a meeting. I am the only one there. I have the wrong meeting time, and the correct time butts up against another commitment. I rush back to my room, mad about messing up my schedule, cranky about my throbbing arms, frantic to fit 17 things into one little hour. I take a deep breath. I forget to do an assignment. I feel panic bubbling when I think I’m going to be late and be an inconvenience. A few minor mix-ups, and I feel like my life is falling apart.
Then I eat frozen yogurt and talk to lovely people and feel a little better. I thought noticing details would get rid of the crappy days. It doesn’t. I’m tired. I’m behind on homework. I feel blue bruises forming in each elbow. I remind myself that I’m going to be okay.
Thursday: Classes are canceled for a day of volunteering with local ministries. I am generally not good at serving. I hoard my hours and give them up under unenthusiastic spiritual inclination. But this time is different. We go to a ministry for urban elementary students. The place swarms with African American kids, buzzing with their spring break energy. I head to the gym, directionless, realizing my awkwardness and how bad I am at small talk. I find a rhythm twirling Double Dutch ropes and playing basketball. I dribble against a dude half my height and play 2-on-2 in jeans. I am rather rusty, but no one cares. The passing of time doesn’t cross my mind. I rebound for a seventh grader who shoots threes better than I ever did (not that that’s hard). Her smile at the floor when I offer a high-five rekindles my desire to coach, to watch confidence and athleticism bloom through a sport that’s woven into my story. After lunch, I squeeze into the back of a supply closet and arrange boxes, stacking summer math curriculum and craft foam. It is ordinary, unsexy service. But they say, as slow order appears from chaos, that we’re meeting needs. In that moment, my small skills of basketball and order-creating feel God-given.
In the evening, I listen to a passionate woman talk about bridging cultures and why Christians aren’t particularly good at it. She is fascinating, but I have to fight to stay present. The list of things to do pushes against the big, messy ideas knocking as she talks. I’m still not very good at the in-the-moment thing. Doing it is hard work.
Friday: I notice, like every other person in the Cities, that it’s snowing ridiculous amounts. My 7:50 class is canceled, but I don’t know it until I get to class. I am dressed and makeup-ed, caffeinated chai tea in hand, and going back to bed seems pointless. I watch the snow blow from the tall library windows. This storm in December would have been beautiful. It’s less charming in April. I feel sudden apathy about everything. I decide to try to be thankful for small things: peanut butter on toast, warm boots, polka dots, stolen writing moments. Naming these things helps. I wonder why I feel obligated to be perpetually happy and immediately shoo away bad moods. My mood brightens when the sun comes out, and I question if it’s normal to be so affected by the weather.
And then the weekend begins. I am swept up in fried green beans and good conversation and high heels and paint on canvas. I forget to notice. But it’s okay.
Noticing still feels like work. It did not make this week perfect. The bruises on my elbows are still there, fading to yellow-green. I struggled to not wish away the minutes during the sermon at the early service. But it made things better, fuller, more beautiful. I saw the slow approach of spring, the wavering of my mood, the life-giving that comes from human connection. It was absolutely worth it.
So I’m going to try again next week. I won’t write about it here, but if you see me tromping through puddles or looking at the sky more than normal human beings, you’ll know what’s up.
Want to join me?